One way to look at the situation in Iraq is to
try to identify variables, elements that could change. Without change, the war
is likely to end with troops having to fight their way out, if they can.
The military situation in Iraq is not a variable. All that can change is the
speed of our defeat. Some actions might slow it, although the time for such
actions, such as adopting an "ink
blot" strategy instead of "capture or kill," passed long ago.
Other actions could speed our defeat, an attack on Iran chief among them. It
now looks as if the Bush administration may have realized that an out-of-the-blue,
Pearl Harbor-style air and missile attack on Iran's nuclear facilities is politically
infeasible. Instead, the White House will order a series of small "border incidents,"
pinpricks similar to last week's raid on an Iranian mission in Kurdistan, intended
to provoke Iranian retaliation. That retaliation will then be presented as an
Iranian attack on forces, with the air raids on Iranian nuclear targets called
"retaliation." Fabricated border incidents have a long history as casus belli;
perhaps the Bushies can dress some German soldiers up in Polish uniforms.
As Bush made clear in last Wednesday's speech, his policies are not a variable.
He will pursue the neocons' dreams all the way to Hell, where they originated.
That leaves the Congress, and it may well be the key variable in the equation.
2008 is not that far away, and electoral panic continues to spread among Hill
Republicans. Senator Brownback is the first conservative Republican Senator
to break with the administration, opposing the "surge." Conservatives have a
central role to play here, because if they turn openly against the war, Bush
will lose his base.
But the Democrats hold both Houses of Congress, so the main burden of ending
a failed enterprise will fall on them. At present, they seem unwilling to go
beyond symbolic but ineffectual measures, such as passing "non-binding resolutions."
Why? It may be that they are paralyzed by a false understanding of the war,
one stated by Vice President Cheney on "Fox New Sunday" when he said, "We have
these meetings with members of Congress, and they agree we can't fail… "
In fact, we have already failed. The war in Iraq was lost long ago. In terms
of the administration's objective of a "democratic Iraq," which Bush re-stated
in his Wednesday speech, it was lost before the first bomb fell, because it
was unattainable no matter what we did. Now, not even the minimal objective
of restoring an Iraqi state is attainable, at least until Iraq's many-sided,
Fourth Generation civil war sorts itself out, and probably not then. Events
in Iraq are simply beyond our control; the forces our invasion and destruction
of the Iraqi state unleashed far overpower any army we can deploy to Iraq, surge
or no surge.
Once Democrats accept and announce that Congress cannot lose a war that is
already lost, they will have the freedom of action they need to get us out.
Polls suggest the public will go along; most Americans now realize the war is
lost, regardless of what President Bush may say or do.
It is probably true, as Senator McCain constantly reminds us, that chaos will
follow an American withdrawal. But that chaos became inevitable, not with America's
withdrawal (it is already happening, even with troops present), but with
its destruction of the Iraqi state. Again, the Democrats need to make this point
to the American people, and make it often.
Senator Joe Biden, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, put
it best. According to the January 5 Washington Post, he said in an interview,
"I have reached the tentative conclusion that a significant portion
of this administration, maybe even including the vice president, believes Iraq
is lost. ... Therefore, the best thing to do is keep it from totally collapsing
on your watch and hand it off to the next guy – literally, not figuratively."
I believe Senator Biden is correct; I said the same thing in an earlier column.
If the question the Democrats put to the American people is, should we allow
thousands more American kids to get wounded or killed so the Bush administration
can put our withdrawal off until it is out of office, the public's answer will
be clear. Killing our kids for national objectives is one thing; doing so for
political advantage is something else.
The key variable thus comes down to this: do the Democrats in Congress have
the courage and the communication skills to level with the people about why
the war in Iraq is continuing after we have lost it? If not, they will have
proven themselves as unfit to govern as the Republican majorities they replaced.